Monday, June 29, 2009

...but if Dr. House had shown up in the footage, the Bolivians might have gotten suspicious...

Charles Widmore, you scoundrel! First you fake the Oceanic Flight 815 crash site, now you dupe the Bolivians with your fake crash footage? What's your angle, Chuck? Trying to purge the poor Bolivians of their soybean market and making a mockery of their obviously stellar journalistic instincts? What did they ever do to you?
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Bay Wants To Punch You in the Face With His New Movie

Michael Bay thinks robot testicles are a hilarious idea. He has many, many other bad ideas as well, all of which can be found in his new five-hour opus, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," and you can read my review of it here.

And speaking of eating shit, there's a scene in "Year One" where Jack Black, yes, eats shit. Find out if the rest of the movie is just as hilarious.
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Revenge of the Tylenol

I suppose whether or not you should see "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" depends on what you're seeking in a film. If you want a headache and to hear so many explosions that all sounds become meaningless, this film is for you. If you're looking for an entertaining—or simply coherent—story, compelling characters, well-played drama, funny gags or thrilling action, go elsewhere.

Of course, director Michael Bay's previous "Transformers" film was a gigantic hit despite resembling a gigantic shit, and the director's reputation for incomprehensible, fast-cut, noisy action has long followed him.

His new film's prehistoric prologue illustrates Bay's storytelling missteps. Some spear-armed hunters discover a giant alien ship with the founder of the Decepticons, whose name is The Fallen (or maybe just Fallen? Did he have a different name before he fell, or was it one of those self-fulfilling thingies?). Then the Fallen stomps on our ancestors. Admittedly not much of a scene, but the only part of it that matters is the surprise of the hunters when they find the Decepticons. The revelation comes via clunky editing and voice-over when it should offer some sort of magnificent reveal, or at least a good reaction shot. Instead it looks like this: hunters hunting, wide shot of of space ship and the Fallen (short for Fallonious?), various loud noises and smashing of your great-great-great-great-great-great granddad. It pains me to see Steven Spielberg's name under the Executive Producer credit and think that the master of the reveal shot didn't at least suggest an alternative approach.

I can muster up enough faint praise to say that some of the action scenes in the sequel are slightly easier to follow than in its predecessor. The underwhelming improvement derives from a few wide shots that actually follow the action long enough for the viewer to discern it (which isn't to say you won't see plenty of Bay's trademark awkward angles, meaningless close-ups and hack assemblies).

Unfortunately, he makes up for any mild visual improvements with some of the most grating scenes of all time. The film oscillates between over-serious pomposity and fourth-rate sitcom humor. I could spend pages describing everything wrong with the scenes depicting hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) as he prepares to leave for college while his dad acts giddy and his mother cries like a lunatic, or after he arrives at his dorm and his mom accidentally eats brownies with…well, I don't want to ruin the surprise. I could discuss the solemn gravity with which the film treats deaths whose permanence feels tenuous at best. But what's truly remarkable is how poorly the two elements mingle. Either Bay shovels nonsensical melodrama at full speed or he bashes us on the head with painfully unfunny bits, sometimes scrotum-inspired, delivered by either obnoxious, pretty people or obnoxious, ugly robots.

The ineptitude at work in these alien robots' character-design cannot be overstated. An extremely unpleasant feeling washed over me with every close-up. They're like dully lit vomit after an all-you-can-eat surplus-parts buffet. I wouldn't blink if you told me they were designed by the same second-graders who continue to add details to their drawings simply because empty space remains on the page. Yes, I realize I'm supposed to be blown away by every computer-generated nut and bolt, but I'd be much more amazed to detect some genuine emotion on the face of one of these drones.

So lifeless are the characters visually that they can't even match the weak caricatures suggested by the screenplay and voice-work. I'm sure no one could forget the Black Robot from the first film (and there were two yellow ones!), but the sequel tops his vaguely stereotypical dialogue with a pair of compact-hatchback-ad-bots who speak in hip-hop slang, have gold teeth and cop to illiteracy. It was near-impossible to distinguish most of the bots from one another in the first film, so instead of refining their design, Bay went and added a bunch more. It's generally impossible to figure out who's who, what they want or why they want it.

This film creates a rule about a mystical key in one scene and contradicts it less than 10 minutes later. It expects you to care about things when it hasn't given you a reason to. And the process takes two and a half hours. Take into account travel time and trailers and you could spend the time it takes to see "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" watching any of these films, among many others: "Nashville," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Magnolia," "The Big Parade," "Goodfellas" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's possible you've seen all these. I suggest you watch one of them again.
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Lessons in Film Directing From Michael Bay

This column, now missing somewhere inside In Utah This Week's intertubes, coincided with the release of the first "Transformers" film and is, I think, a helpful primer on the director's work.

There are many people who knew everything there was to know about the characters in "Transformers" before the film came out. I must confess, however, that I am not one of them.

While I hoped that "Transformers" would be a fun showcase for its much-hyped special effects, I knew little about the shape-shifting robots who are sentient alien beings (or whatever). So I relied entirely on the filmmaking techniques of director Michael Bay to entertain me and bring me up to speed.

But Bay didn't make it easy to follow the characters or, in most cases, even tell them apart. I figured out the semi-truck Optimus Prime thanks to the tacky paint job, and the lovable loser Bumblebee because he had the most screen time. But it was still hard to discern Bumblebee from the other yellow one ("There was another yellow one?" a colleague asked at the end of the screening). And although all the evil Transformers (Decepticons) used cool army vehicles as their disguises, the only one who had any personality was the little one who pretended to be a boom box and a cell phone.

William Shakespeare put it best when he wrote about a Bay film, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (or was that a Tony Scott review?). How does Bay turn even the simplest silly popcorn movie into a headache? He spent years developing his technique, fine-tuning it from the slick, over-blown, in-your-face action of "The Rock" to the disorienting nonsense of "Armageddon." Through an intense study of his films—and in the case of Bay films, "intense study" doesn't imply multiple viewings—I have uncovered a few of his filmmaking secrets.

Character development: The trick is to wait until a robot dies, then have another robot call him "brother," to signify a deep, meaningful connection. It's so much easier than making the characters interesting throughout the whole film. Also, a love triangle makes a historic bombing much more engaging.

Sound design: By cranking up his sound mix with so many ear-shattering clanks and explosions, Bay deftly removes any sense of dynamics from his films, hence depriving the audience of a sense of surprise or importance when the bigger dramatic moments arrive. In "Transformers," he even ruins what should be a funny gag about a phone operator who refuses to put a soldier through to the Pentagon, insisting on a constant barrage of background explosions instead of carefully placed comedic punctuation. Bay may have outdone the barrage of "Armageddon" with the last hour of "Transformers," which is simply one big high-volume drone. It even outdoes "The Island," which had an intriguing start before Bay punished the audience for being interested.

Constant cuts and unclear compositions: Bay matches his love for loud, piercing noises with loud, piercing visuals. Watch any clip from "Armageddon" and see a bunch of random shots work against each other to deprive the audience of any sense of what's happening. The trick is never to stop, thus never giving the audience time to realize that nothing happened. What should be a cool shot of a Transformer running, jumping and turning into a a car before hitting the ground loses its awe due to an arbitrary angle and a cut that actually makes it harder to see the wow moment. After watching "Transformers," I saw an ad for the "Transformers" video game and got more of an impression of how the characters look and move than I did in all 144 minutes of the movie.

Cool shots, no point: Bay has devised some rather remarkable visual ideas, but he doesn't let that diminish his reputation as a Hollywood hack. He usually finds a way to use his ideas to detract from whatever story he's allegedly telling. In "Pearl Harbor," there's a rather amazing shot over the top of a bomb as it drops on the U.S. naval fleet. But rather than use the shot for the first bomb that dropped, or another bomb that had a significant impact on the film's characters, Bay buries it amongst a collection of meaningless explosions. During a "Transformers" fight scene, the camera rattles around inside the car of two characters who have nothing to do with the movie. The important action is barely visible through their window. Remarkable.

Dialogue: No matter who wrote the screenplay, Bay will make sure there are a few classic lines. From "Pearl Harbor:" "It's your nose that hurts." "I think it's my heart." From "Transformers:" "We were deceived by the Decepticons." (Yup—you'd think they'd have seen it coming.) Honorable mention goes to, "Put the cube in my chest," which Optimus Prime repeats five times in as many minutes. A different phrase kept repeating in my head: "Sneak out and see and see what else is playing in the multiplex."
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Suppose a 'Goes Up to Eleven' Reference Would be too Obvious

Recorded 6/20/09, episode 11 of The Same Dame Podcast opens with a bout of depression (re: "Year One") and somehow devolves into a discussion about unorthodox procreation practices. In between, we discover Jeremy’s burgeoning second career as a lasso-clad porn star and take a look at fellow professional lover Sasha Grey’s least-penetrative role to date in "The Girlfriend Experience."

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast (via iTunes if you like) so you won't miss our next thrilling episode.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Criterion Restores 15 Minutes of Lost 'Marienbad' Fart Jokes

When Alain Resnais released "Last Year at Marienbad" in 1961, he was under extreme pressure to keep the running-time at 95 minutes or less. At the end of a heated editing-room fight, his producers forced him to cut a full 15-minutes of fart jokes, which for the past half-century were believed lost. But the Criterion Collection's new, director-approved DVD and Blu-ray release of the classic masterpiece restores this legendary cinematic treasure trove, oft compared with the missing footage from "Greed" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." Criterion managed to keep it a secret for some time, but made the big announcement in a new ad on The Awl:

As of publication, you can still see the ad on The Awl. Try refreshing the page a few time if it doesn't pop up the first time (because an ad for "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" appears instead).

Having spent a little time with the DVD, which comes out June 23rd, I can tell you that not only is the transfer gorgeous, but the restored footage is 100-percent on the same level as the previously known cut. Every new fart joke had me on the floor. Bravo, Renais, and congratulations to Criterion for this momentous discovery.

A quick sample Alain Robbe-Grillet's dialogue, to get you excited:

-I've never farted in anyone's face.

-I remember it clearly. It was in the gardens at Frederiksbad. I was sitting alone, beside a statue. I noticed you along the balustrade. You were alone, to one side. You came towards me now, but you didn't seem to see me. I told you you looked alive. Then you looked at me, turned around, spread your cheeks, stuck your ass in my face and let one rip.

-But I've never been to Frederiksbad.

It was evening. The last evening probably. It was almost dark. A faint shadow moved slowly through the dusk. Even before I could make out your features, I knew it was you. I couldn't mistake the remarkably strong, slightly sweet stench that had wafted from your behind. When you recognized me, you stopped. We stood there, a few yards apart, without speaking. The only sounds we made came from our anuses—mine so faint you weren't sure I made them until you caught the oh so deadly scent, yours as loud as a tugboat. You stood in front of me, waiting perhaps, as if unable to take another step forward or turn back.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talk About Final Destination 3-D

If you don't like to make jokes in bad taste, it's best to just avoid this article.

An Italian woman who arrived late for the Air France plane flight that crashed in the Atlantic last week, killing all 228 on board, has died in a car accident, Italy's ANSA news agency reported.

(tip: Joe Beatty)
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

SDP Joins Commandments, Fingers, Toes, Kieślowski and Bo Derek with Perfect 10

Recorded 6/7/09, episode 10 of The Same Dame Podcast features news on Carradine, Waldo, Ghostbusting, Archie, Brüno and other fictional characters. And we review "Up," "Drag Me to Hell," "Land of the Lost," "The Hangover" and "Brothers Bloom." Unfortunately, this episode was so packed that we had no room for special guests, but we'll try to remedy that in the future.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast (via iTunes if you like) so you won't miss our next thrilling episode.
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Monday, June 8, 2009

Drag Me Up to the Limits of Salvation....uh....Smithsonian.

See what I did there? I made an entire sentence out of words from movies I recently reviewed. And the sentence made perfect sense, too. Go ahead, read it again.

I'm waiting....

Rolls off the tongue, eh?

Well, now that I've procrastinated long enough, here are five tasty reviews. From best movie to worst:


"Drag Me to Hell"

"The Limits of Control"

"Terminator Salvation"

And for this last one...I'll let you choose between two different reviews for "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." The first is mine at IGMS; the second is Peter Bart's at Variety. While you're making your decision, let me offer this promise: I won't repeatedly refer to "Night at the Museum" as "surrealism" (I don't think this is what Breton, Bunuel, etc. had in mind), AND I will not - I repeat, NOT - refer to Shawn Levy as "a fabulously talented director," and I will NOT argue that a sequel to a movie that made $575 million worldwide, and which follows virtually the exact same plot formula as the original, is somehow "daring."
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